Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sausage and Salad

Jon Stewart has fun with the Iowa Ihateyou summit.

Quoth the Prophet of the Tundra:

When will they let us control our own care? When will they do to stop causing our pain, and start feeling it again? Well, in other words, um… is Hillary a new Democrat or an old one? Now, the press asks, the press asks “can anyone stop Hillary?” Again, this is to forego a conclusion, right, it’s to scare us off, to convince that – a pantsuit can crush patriots!?

I defy anyone to diagram that paragraph.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Going Out With A Prayer

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has about as much of a chance of being the Republican nominee in 2016 as I do of being Mr. Universe, but you can’t knock a guy for trying.  This last weekend in an attempt to upstage the clown show hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Mr. Jindal had his own little gathering of Jesus-shouters and homophobes to show the base that while he may be brown-skinned, he’s really one of them.

ABC host George Stephanopoulos asked Jindal on Sunday how he explained to non-believers his decision to be the keynote speaker at an event hosted by the American Family Association, which has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its views on LGBT people.

Jindal had concluded his speech at “The Response: A Call To Prayer For a Nation In Crisis” event, by announcing that “our god wins.”

[…]

The Louisiana Republican pointed out that “a majority of our people are Christians, but we don’t discriminate against anybody. And that’s one of the great things about America.”

But when it camne [sic] to discriminating against LGBT people, Jindal said that he would back a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court legalized it.

So he’s against discrimination but wants to enshrine it in the Constitution.  Aw, isn’t that cute?

Like I said, Mr. Jindal, along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee, have no chance whatsoever of being the nominee of their party, but it’s fun to see them trot out their little selling points before they exit.  Kind of like a pity act on American Idol.

Oh, and speaking of Marco Rubio, he has stated that his staff should proceed as if he’s going to run for president in 2016 and that he can’t run for re-election to the Senate from Florida if he does.  That means another open race in Florida for Charlie Crist to try for again.  Oh joy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Lawgiver

Former Gov. Huckabee goes for Moses:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said during an appearance Thursday on a Christian television show that he’s thinking about running for President to help the nation know where laws come from: God.

“We cannot survive as a republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God,” he said on the show “Life Today.”

Yeah, okay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Can’t Help Themselves

A week after some “expert” on Fox News claimed that Muslims have taken over Birmingham, England, and was so laughed out of the room that even Fox News had to apologize for his breathtaking racism and stupidity, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) goes over to England and basically says the same thing.

Mr. Jindal, you recall, is the man who once told his fellow Republicans that they can no longer be “the stupid party” and is considering a run for the presidency in 2016.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mittopia

Via the Boston Globe:

If Romney were president, one longtime adviser said, “There wouldn’t be an ISIS at all, and Putin would know his place in life. Domestically, things would be in better shape.”

And unicorns would be dancing under the rainbows in the lollipop meadows.

At least he didn’t promise a drop in unemployment, gas under $2.50 a gallon, and a booming economy because, um, we already have those.  Thanks anyway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

He’s Serious This Time

I guess Mitt Romney really is going for it.

…Romney has said he is intent on running to the right of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who also is working aggressively to court donors and other party establishment figures for a 2016 bid. Romney has signaled to conservatives that, should he enter the race, he shares their views on immigration and on taxes — and that he will not run from party orthodoxy.

In previous iterations, he’s been the progressive pro-choice live-and-let-live Republican governor of Massachusetts, the smart businessman alternative to John McCain, and the whirling dervish for tall trees and the 47% in 2012.  Now he’s going for the red meat right-wing nutsery because that’s the way the wind blows.  He’ll be Ted Cruz with the car elevator this time around.

Short Takes

Search continues for last of the the suspects in Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked.

Attacks against ISIS continue.

Cuba released 53 political prisoners as promised as part of the thaw in U.S. relations.

South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage is struck down, but the order is immediately stayed.

Paul Ryan isn’t running for president.

Monday, January 12, 2015

All Aboard

So Marco Rubio has his family’s permission to run for president.  But only after he cleans his room and does his homework.

At my last count we have Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Scott Walker and Mitt Romney all in the running or at the very least talking about it.  Those are the credible ones; there’s also Ben Carson and several others from the hard-right side who are making noise. Hey, where’s John Bolton and Pat Buchanan?

Have I left anyone out?

Monday, January 5, 2015

And They’re Off

No one has actually said they are actually running, but the GOP is already lining up applicants for the 2016 clown car.  Jeb Bush is “actively exploring” a run (as opposed to just lying there and waiting for it to trip over him), and over the weekend, Mike Huckabee gave up his gig on Fox News so he doesn’t have to be fired for running his campaign while still working for them.  Is it because Fox News does not want to be seen as being in favor of a particular political party?  No, they don’t care about that.  They just don’t want to pay someone while they’re running; it’s supposed to be the other way around.

It’s almost exactly a year before the first primary or caucus vote will be cast and a lot will happen between then and now.  Candidates will come and go; there will be boomlets for this or that one, and the Very Serious people will handicap each one for their potential against the other and against Hillary Clinton — assuming she’s running (of course she’s running… isn’t she?) — and that is what sells slots for boner pills and Life Alert on cable TV.

What matters in the primaries is not whether the candidate can be elected in November 2016 but if he or she can win against the others in their party.  So how Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson comes off to the general electorate doesn’t matter as much as it does to the folks who will decide who gets the nomination.  They don’t have to appeal to the rest of us, they just have to get in good with the base of the GOP, which means they have to go for the crunchy nuts.

According to digby, writing in Salon a while back, Mike Huckabee has potential.

Who else in the Republican Party can appeal to their macho side like Chris Christie while also filling the Christian right’s love tank like Rick Santorum? And doing it all with the nasty politics of Ted Cruz and the smug smile of Ronald Reagan? He has real political talent.

I agree that we shouldn’t count him out.  At this point in the race you can’t count anybody out.  But I don’t think the chances that Mr. Huckabee will win the nomination, much less the general election, are that much better now than they were in 2008.  For one thing, the ground has shifted; we’re no longer in two wars, the economy — wrecked by the last Republican president — is booming and the mood of the country is moving away from the fear and trepidation that the Republicans have been so good at exploiting.  The stock market is soaring, gas prices — something everyone notices — are falling to record lows, people are getting jobs, wages are inching up, Obamacare is working, and Detroit is selling (and recalling) cars in record numbers.  On the social issues, the majority of states now recognize marriage equality or will in the very near future (Florida too, tomorrow!).  In other words, all the things the Republicans used to scare the crap out of us in 2008 and 2012 are either no longer relevant or have turned from a monster under the bed into a dust bunny.

So if Mike Huckabee and the rest want to run a campaign next year based on the issues and fears left over from the last one, let them.  We’ll be waiting for them to catch up.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back/Looking Forward

The tradition continues:  it’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

– Despite the terrible roll-out and start-up of Obamacare and the opportunity it handed the Republican campaign strategists, the healthcare law will not be as big an issue in the 2014 mid-terms that all the Villagers say it will be.  By the time the campaign hits the final stretch, the law will be so entrenched that even the people who claim they hate it — even though they support what it does — will have a hard time trying to run candidates who promise to repeal it.  Still, the GOP noise machine and Tea Party hard-core is locked in on re-electing their safe base and the morning after the 2014 mid-terms will show a House still in the hands of the GOP and the Senate closer to 50-50.

I got most of that right: Obamacare was not a campaign issue but I didn’t count on the Democrats running away from it like it was an Ebola-soaked sponge.  The Republicans didn’t win the Senate so much as the Democrats lost it.

– Immigration reform and gun control will go nowhere because it’s the same Congress we had in 2013 and they didn’t do jack-shit.

Too easy, more’s the pity.

– By December 31, 2014 it will be a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be running for president.  Joe Biden will play coy with the Villagers about running, but in the end he’ll demur to Ms. Clinton.  The Benghazi! non-scandal will be long gone except for the nutsery who still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  The GOP will be lining up its merry band that includes Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and just for laughs, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.  President Obama’s approval numbers will be back up in the 50% range.

Nailed that one.  Even the GOP House report says Benghazi! is a nothingburger, and President Obama’s approval numbers are going up.

– Florida Gov. Rick Scott will lose his re-election bid to Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat, and Marco Rubio’s star will be as faded in GOP national politics as Pauly Shore’s is among Oscar voters.  He’ll pick up a primary challenge from the far right, but he’ll be safe in 2016 because the Democrats have nobody to run against him.

– Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will all face tough re-election campaigns, but Mr. Kasich and Mr. Snyder will probably squeak by.  Mr. Corbett is out, and just for laughs, the people of Maine will toss their gaffe-prone Tea Party guv Paul LePage.

Still pissed that Florida and Maine re-elected those clowns.

– The national economy will continue to expand and the drive for the living wage movement will take hold.  The unemployment numbers will finally get below 7.0% and stay there.

Yeah, that was an easy call.  The minimum wage is going up all over the country.

– Marriage equality will spread to more states as more cases based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 are heard.  Indiana will vote on a ban on same-sex marriage in November 2014, and it will lose narrowly. But same-sex won’t be the law of the land yet, and I predict that unless the Supreme Court issues a sweeping ruling, Texas will be the last hold-out.

– The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that Hobby Lobby or any for-profit non-religious corporation does not have the right “to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”

Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that marriage equality would take hold like it did this year.  Thirty-five states now allow same-sex marriage, many based on rulings by courts that hold that banning marriage equality violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.  There are several cases that are making their way to the United States Supreme Court.  But the court may have tipped its hand.  In October the Court declined to take action on five cases submitted for hearing during the 2014-2015 session.  This allowed the lower court rulings that struck down the bans in those states to stand.

Feh on the Hobby Lobby ruling.

– This will be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Tigers now that Jim Leyland has retired.  They’ll do respectably well and may even win the division again, but it’s time for a breather.

Yep.

– Fidel Castro will finally hop the twig, and the slow thaw between the U.S. and Cuba will begin as the generation that is as old as Castro continues to fade away.

Fidel is still alive, but Alan Gross is free and diplomatic relations are being restored.  About time, too.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

Losing Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both by their own hand, made this year especially painful.

– Personally, life will continue at its gentle pace in good health and good spirits.  In September I will turn 62 and begin the first steps towards eventual retirement, but that won’t be for a long time yet.  I’ve already started on my paper for the William Inge Theatre Festival in March, and I continue to write and produce blog posts.  My parents are happily settled into their “life enrichment community,” and I hope to visit them this summer.  I might even get a smartphone this year, but don’t bet on it.

I’m already working on my paper for the William Inge Festival in April, and I had two one-act plays produced, including one entitled A Life Enriching Community, thanks to my visit to my folks in Cincinnati.  No, I don’t have a smartphone.

Now the predictions:

– Now that we have a Republican House and Senate and a president who isn’t running for re-election, get out the popcorn, and I mean the good stuff.  The GOP will try to do everything they can to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama, but they will end up looking even more foolish, petulant, infantile, and borderline nuts than they have for the last two years, and that’s saying something.  Repeals of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and recharged attempts to investigate Benghazi!, the IRS, and the VA will be like the three rings of Barnum & Bailey, all of which President Obama will gleefully veto.  As Zandar noted at Balloon Juice, “Over/under on when a Republican declares on FOX that Obama’s veto is  “illegal”, Feb 8.”

– Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for president by March 2015 at the latest.  Elizabeth Warren will not run, but Bernie Sanders, the Gene McCarthy of this generation, will announce as an independent and become a frequent guest on MSNBC.  Jeb Bush, after “actively exploring” a run in 2016, will announce that he is running and quickly fade to the single digits when the GOP base gets a taste of his views on immigration and Common Core.  He may be popular in Republican polls, but those people don’t vote in primaries.  The frontrunners for the Iowa caucuses a year from now will be Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

– The war in Afghanistan is officially over as of December 2014, but there will be U.S. troops actively engaged in combat in what is left of Syria and Iraq in 2015.

– The U.S. economy will continue to improve at a galloping pace.  The Dow will hit 19,000 at some point in 2015 and oil will continue to flood the market, keeping the price below $60 a barrel and gasoline will sell for under $2 a gallon, and finally wages will start to catch up with the improving economy.  I blame Obama.

– The Supreme Court will rule that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.  They will also narrowly uphold Obamacare again.

– The embargo against Cuba will end on a narrow vote in the Senate thanks to the overwhelming influence of Republican donors who see 11 million Cubans starving for Dunkin Donuts and car parts and don’t care what a bunch of domino-playing dreamers on Calle Ocho think.

– The Tigers will win their division again.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

– I technically retired on September 1, 2014, but my last day at work will be August 30, 2019.  (It’s complicated.)  I’m planning a return trip to Stratford this summer — more on that later — and I’ll get more plays produced.  I will finish at least one novel in 2015.

– And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Okay, readers, it’s your turn.  What do you predict will befall us in 2015?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The “Moderate” One

Now that Jeb Bush is actively exploring running for president, it’s time to remember that there was a time he was considered the true heir to his father’s legacy as the next President Bush.  He was the smart one, the diligent and well-spoken son as opposed to George W, the wastrel that frittered his time away playing with baseball teams and being the goof-off.  If the Bush family was being cast in The Godfather, then Jeb would be Michael and George W would be Fredo.

But the people of Florida didn’t elect Jeb as governor in his first attempt in 1994, and George W got elected in Texas.  Jeb had to wait until 1998 and by then his older brother had already won the hearts of the GOP.  All Jeb had left was to support his brother, win Florida for him in 2000, and settle for being the first Republican to win two terms as governor of Florida.  His time would come; meanwhile he had time to polish his image as a nice, well-spoken, and moderate conservative, unlike his brother who was inarticulate, prone to gaffes, and who populated his administration with hard-core wingnuts like Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft.

But then fate intervened in the name Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was stricken with a heart attack and left in a vegetative state.  Governor Jeb Bush took it upon himself to wrestle the state government into trying to take control of her medical care, going so far as to call the state legislature back into special session to ram through a law to keep her body alive even though no reputable medical professional said it would do any good.

Ms. Schiavo’s husband remembers Gov. Bush all too well.

ThinkProgress spoke with Michael Schiavo and the attorney who represented him in the matter, George Felos, about Bush’s presidential candidacy. Both expressed concern that Bush’s record was one of government interference and opposing individual liberty.

“If you want a government that’s gonna intrude on your life, enforce their personal views on you, then I guess Jeb Bush is your man,” Schiavo explained, adding, “We really don’t need another Bush in office.”

Felos described Bush’s actions interference in Schiavo case as, “An egregious example of the fat hand of government inserting itself into a family’s medical decision and the obtrusive hand of government trying to override their decision.”

[…]

“Through the Dept. of Children and Family Services and through the Department of Law Enforcement they tried in the courts to ignore the higher court pronouncements – this was documented in an article by the Miami Herald,” he recalled, though, “when local authorities said you’re going to have to go through us in order to get her, and the state law enforcement agency backed down.”

Though Bush, then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and social conservative activists protested that Terri Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state, an autopsy confirmed that she had been.

“It’s one thing to have your own personal beliefs,” Felos said, “It’s quite another to use your official powers and your official office to subvert the court and the lawful process.”

[…]

Michael Schiavo, nearly a decade later, said he believes Jeb Bush’s intervention was a purely political move and an act of buffoonery. “If you want a government that’s gonna be intrusive and interfere in your personal life, vote for Bush. If you want to live like that, want people to interfere in your personal lives, then vote for him,” he said.

Mr. Bush will have his own problems in running for the Republican nomination.  He’s vulnerable on immigration reform — he’s in favor of being nice to the undocumented — and he’s a proponent of the Common Core education standards, which is despised by the Tea Party base who think it is some kind of government plot to make America’s children smart enough not to vote for Republicans.  He also has his share of questionable financial dealings that remind people of the most recent GOP candidate.  But his biggest advantage remains that he comes across as a reasonable, nice, and so not Ted Cruz on TV that he could win over even a wavering Democrat who isn’t sure that it’s time for America to elect a black man as president.  Just as charming as Michael Corleone.

Which leads me to Paul Campos’s suggestion for a campaign slogan for Jeb 2016: “In five years the Bush family will be completely legitimate.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jeb the Explorer

Via TPM:

Bush, in a Facebook note, said that after conversations with his wife he had decided to look into running for president. He also said that in January he will start a leadership political action committee to help look into running for president.

What does “actively explore” even mean?  As opposed to “passively”?  Or just waiting for it to happen?

Steve M looks at the field and the positions that Mr. Bush has taken on immigration and education; positions that run counter to the blatherings of the hard-core base of the party.  Good luck with that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The 2016 GOP Plan

Apparently the Republican plan to win the White House in 2016 is to talk smack about Hillary Clinton.

At political fund-raisers and party conferences, over intimate dinners and in casual telephone calls, top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are constructing an image of Mrs. Clinton that is relentlessly unappealing: as rusty and unloved, out of step and out of date, damaged and vulnerable.

To win the party’s nomination in a contest over which Mrs. Clinton looms so large, likely candidates are now jockeying to appeal to several overlapping constituencies, including Republican activists who loathe her, donors who respect and fear her fund-raising prowess and party leaders who view her candidacy as a test of their attempts to modernize the Republican brand.

For a candidate to be taken seriously, said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant, “party leaders need to know that you have a game plan and a path to victory against Hillary.”

Notice there’s nothing in there about how they’re planning to help the economic recovery (from a disaster that their last president largely caused), fix education, immigration, infrastructure, or even address foreign policy issues.  That stuff is for nerds; they’d much rather cackle like a bunch of middle-schoolers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

He’s Back

Attention Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and any other Republican who even toyed with the idea of running in 2016:  forget it.  You haven’t got a chance now.

Rick Santorum won primaries and caucuses in 11 states in 2012, coming in a respectable second in the GOP presidential primary season. And Republicans have a history of bestowing their nomination on the next guy in line, usually an also-ran from the last contest.

Yet the former senator from Pennsylvania is rarely mentioned in the already feverish pre-game 2016 chatter among the political commentariat and the donor class.

That’s just the way he likes it. Or so he says.

“America loves an underdog. We’re definitely the underdog in this race,” he said in an interview Tuesday. Santorum added that being underestimated — again — “has given me a lot of latitude.”

His iconic sweater vests will likely make a return appearance. But Santorum 2.0 will be a very different presidential campaign than the one that came from almost nowhere to win the Iowa caucuses in an overtime decision, he vows.

“I get the game,” Santorum said.

I can hardly wait.  What this country really needs is an anti-immigrant gay-bashing Jesus-shouter in power to show the world what’s what.  Yip-yah.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Reading

What About Sherrod Brown? — Michael Kazin the The New Republic looks at the senior senator from Ohio as a possible presidential candidate.

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, I think Sherrod Brown should run for president. I know that, barring a debilitating health problem or a horrible scandal, Hillary Clinton is likely to capture the Democratic nomination. I realize too that Brown, the senior senator from Ohio, has never hinted that he may be tempted to challenge her. “I’m really happy where I am,” he told Chris Matthews last winter, when the MSNBC’s paragon of impatience urged him to run.

Yet, for progressive Democrats, Brown would be a nearly perfect nominee. During his two decades in the House and Senate, he has taken strong and articulate stands on every issue which matters to the party’s broad, if currently dispirited, liberal base. When George W. Bush was in office and riding high, Brown opposed both his invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act. He has long been a staunch supporter of abortion rights and gay marriage, and is married to Connie Schultz, a feminist author who writes a nationally syndicated column.

Brown’s true mission, however, is economic: He wants to boost the well-being of working Americans by any means necessary. Brown has been talking and legislating about how to accomplish it for years before Elizabeth Warren left Harvard for the Capitol. During Obama’s first term, he advocated a larger stimulus package, called for re-enacting the Glass-Steagall Act to rein in big banks, and stumped for comprehensive immigration reform. He champions the rights of unions and the power of the National Labor Relations Board and criticizes unregulated “free trade” for destroying manufacturing jobs at home. He also led the charge among Senate Democrats that pressured Obama to drop his plan to appoint Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve and appoint Janet Yellen instead.

On his lapel, Brown wears a canary pin to honor the workers’ movement that “gave us all food safety laws, civil rights, rights for the disabled, pensions and the minimum wage.” Like the canaries which miners once took with them into the pits to warn them of toxic gas, the pin symbolizes the need to stay on guard against any employers and politicians who threaten those gains.

There are other Democrats—Warren is the best known—who also skillfully combine a politics of economic populism with a commitment to gender equality and civil liberties. But only Brown represents a populous swing state that has voted for the victor in every presidential election since 1960. In both his Senate races, Brown faced well-known and well-financed Republican opponents—and creamed them. In 2006, his unexpected 12-point margin over Mike DeWine was aided, in part, by the anti-Bush wave that gave Democrats control of Congress. Still, DeWine was a two-term incumbent who had been elected previously by landslides. In 2012, Brown faced Josh Mandel, the popular young state Treasurer. After what became that cycle’s most expensive Senate race, Brown won by six points. He outpolled Barack Obama in Ohio by over 160,000 votes.

Brown’s success, like that of many politicians who are popular in swing states, relies, in part, on charm. He relishes going to hundreds of town meetings around the state, where he answers any question thrown at him. Whether in public or talking to an interviewer in his office, he comes off as relaxed, witty, curious, and rhetoric-free. Two years ago, when I spoke with him in Washington, we spent so much time talking and laughing about his Ohio predecessors—who included the formidable Mark Hanna, the Republican who, in 1896, pioneered the big-money, mass media national campaign—that we barely had enough time to talk about Brown’s career and policies. I have never enjoyed myself so much with any politician, particularly one who was, at the time, fighting to keep his seat.

But Brown earns his popularity by refusing to trim his progressive faith or apologize for it. “If you remember who you are,” he told me, “you don’t have to move to the center, wherever the center happens to be at any moment.” He keeps insisting that America will not become a decent society unless the labor movement regains some of its strength and corporations lose a good deal of their power over campaigns and politicians.

Last summer, George Will paid Brown a kind of tribute. “He looks, sounds and acts like a real, as opposed to faculty club, leftist,” wrote Will in a rare moment when he put his irony, if not his hauteur, aside. “Although he is a Yale graduate, he has the rumpled look and hoarse voice of someone who spent last night on Paris barricades, exhorting les miserables to chuck cobblestones at the forces defending property.” Will did have a point when he contrasted Sherrod Brown’s good-natured, steadfast populism with Hillary Clinton’s “risk-averse careerism” and “joyless plod” toward the Democratic nomination.

Ebola and the Embargo — From The Nation, Arturo Lopez-Levy and Foreign Policy in Focus on the cooperation between the United States and Cuba in battling the epidemic and how it might end the embargo against Cuba.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such a turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in US policy toward Cuba, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to US interests. A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update US policy toward Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalization in Cuba.

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

Slipping Away — John Lahr in The New Yorker recalls his last lunch with Mike Nichols.

“Shall we Esca?” Mike asked me late this September, making our lunch date sound like a dance, which, in a way, it always was. When I walked into the Ninth Avenue watering hole where we’d meet a few times a year to talk show biz, he was already seated at the back of the restaurant—his table, of course—having been delivered by a chauffeur, who remained outside to whisk him to his next port of call at any time. Mike didn’t talk about his medical issues, but his body told the story. His tall, robust frame was shrunken now; he’d lost weight but not his appetite for life or conversation. (He was planning a Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” in February, starring Meryl Streep.) Nichols was a great raconteur, bringing to his stories both his swiftness of mind and the gift for mimicry that had made him famous as one half of the glorious high-wire improvisational-comedy act Nichols and May. Even as I write this, I can see Mike’s eager eyes, his smile starting to form, and hear his laugh, which could start as a ripple and end as a wave that left him in shuddering, eye-watering, wheezing, red-faced collapse.

At our lunch, which was the last time I saw him, Nichols talked about befriending Marlon Brando when he first got to Hollywood. “We were bullshitting one night, and I said to him, I asked him what it felt like when he first came to Hollywood and he was master of the universe. And he laughed, and he said something like, ‘Oh, honey, I was so busy trying not to go crazy I never noticed it all.’ ” We wandered into talk about his début Broadway play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” “I was immediately mature and experienced,” he told me, and he recalled the adjustment he gave to Robert Redford when he complained about being upstaged by Elizabeth Ashley, who was raising her leg when they kissed. “ ‘I feel like I’ve been used. I’m embarrassed,’ Redford said. And I said, ‘Why don’t you do it too?’ So he did and it got a huge laugh.” “And she stopped?” I asked. Nichols looked down his long nose, “Of course.” Mike was a repository of great knowledge about audiences and actors and the art of storytelling. He had lived a tempestuous life, which included a breakdown and four marriages; he had also achieved happiness, so his observations on people and problems were astute. We had planned a book together, but during the summer he’d withdrawn because, he said, he had neither the energy nor the memory for the task. Over the years, we’d talked of performance, and shows, and directors, and literature, but that afternoon, as he polished off his plate of sorbets, Nichols strayed into an area he’d never before mentioned. It startled me. I wrote it down in my notebook as a piece of wisdom that I didn’t want to forget. “I’m slipping away,” he said. “ I’ve decided to make friends with it.”

He drove me uptown. As we parted, I waved and said, “Next time lunch is on me.”

Doonesbury — Take the money and run.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Reading

Saturday Mornings at Ten — Mary Norris fondly remembers calling in to “Car Talk.”

For years, “Car Talk” has served as the Saturday-morning cartoons of my adult life. If I am home, I turn on the radio at ten, and I don’t turn it off until I’ve wasted another hour listening to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and heard the complete list of fake staff members: Marge Inaverra, the bookkeeper; Pickup Andropov, the Russian chauffeur. If I am leaving on a trip, I time my departure so that I can listen in the car. Like Tom, the older of the Magliozzi brothers, who died this week at the age of seventy-seven, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, I like to drive with the windows open.

Click and Clack stopped making new shows a few years ago, but the best segments of old shows are still on the air, and “Car Talk” still sounds fresh to me. Maybe, like Tom, I have a touch of Alzheimer’s. (Ray was the first to make a joke about how his brother really did not remember last week’s puzzler.) I follow “Car Talk” on Facebook, where they post pictures of eccentric cars sent in by fans. I wish I had sent them my shot, taken in Howard Beach, of the car in the shape of an avocado before someone else did. There’s also a funny-sign contest. I could have sent in “ASS COLLECTION,” the segment of crawl on the L.E.D. sign outside an optical shop in Rockaway that you see only if you’re stopped at the red light at exactly the right moment (“DESIGNER SUNGL … ASS COLLECTION”).

I called “Car Talk” for advice once about my ’85 Ford Escort, which I had dubbed the Death Trap. It had a lot of problems, number one being that it was so rusty that parts were always snapping off, but the car was always cheaper to fix than to replace. Sometimes, it would just be dead on arrival: that is, on my arrival at wherever I had parked it to try to start it up and go someplace. I suspected a bad connection—if I opened the hood and took off my shoe and whacked the engine, sometimes it started. Success depended on the style of shoe. When that didn’t work, I’d call AAA (not to be confused with A.A.), and they’d send a tow truck, and the driver would shake his head and say that a jump would not take me very far, and then he’d tow the car to some cavernous garage on the far West Side, near the car pound, and the mechanics would fleece me for the cost of a new battery and an alternator.

It wasn’t easy to get on “Car Talk,” I discovered. I was not put through to Click and Clack at Car Talk Plaza. Instead, I was instructed to leave my name and number and a brief description of my problem. The calls were prearranged—no doubt by their producer, Doug (Bongo Boy) Berman—but the guys heard the problems for the first time on the air. I soon realized that my problem was nowhere near entertaining enough for “Car Talk.” I was competing with the guy in Brooklyn who parked on the street in a car that drove only in reverse. And the woman in Colorado who was looking for a used stretch limousine so that she could roll up the window between the driver and the passengers and not have to listen to her grandchildren bickering. And the woman in Maine, or somewhere, who drove to the grocery store, parked and locked her car, did her shopping, and only when she came back out to load the groceries into the car saw that there was a rat in it. Eek!

But the idea of calling Click and Clack had the same effect as drafting a letter to Ann Landers: it was enough to make me figure things out for myself. Obviously, I should get rid of the Escort before it got rid of me. My next car was a 1990 Honda Civic—not the most boring car on the road, according to Tom and Ray (that distinction was reserved for the Toyota Corolla)—and my problem with it was not the car but the mechanics. Informed through the mail that I had an unpaid parking ticket, I requested a copy of the original summons, and, sure enough, the ticket was acquired while the car was in their hands. One of the mechanics must have been running an errand (a test drive?) and parked the car illegally somewhere I had no reason to go. What do you do when your mechanics stiff you with a parking ticket? Do you confront them? Or do you shut up and pay?

I paid the ticket and kept the mechanics, and my local stand-ins for Click and Clack (decidedly not educated at M.I.T.) never overcharged me, even though they knew I loved that car and would spend any amount of money on it. I think they loved the car, too. Once, when I picked it up, I found in the back seat a gift of men’s cologne from Lacoste, the company with the crocodile insignia (or is it an alligator?). It was shortly after Valentine’s Day, and I hypothesized that the second-generation mechanic had received it from a girlfriend while on a date in my car. Should I return it? Why? He obviously didn’t want it or he wouldn’t have left it there. Regift it to a friend with a February birthday, without telling him of its provenance? That seemed slightly cynical, but better than the more forthright “Happy Birthday! My mechanic left this in my back seat.”

I wonder what Tom would think of the new speed limit in New York City: twenty-five miles per hour unless posted otherwise. “Whaddya kidding?” he’d say. “You’d be lucky to get a car up to twenty-five miles per hour on the streets of New York City!” And then the laugh.

Tom will drive off into the November afternoon today as Ray does a show in his memory. The Best of “Car Talk” will play on, like the classic it is.

Now What? Steve Coll on what the president can do with two more years.

The Republicans won a clean technical knockout against a hamstrung opponent, but they pranced as if they’d walloped Joe Louis in his prime. Party spokesmen described the victory as a referendum on Obama’s failed leadership. That was spin, yet Obama does deserve much of the criticism he has taken for his party’s defeat. Before the midterms, amid public scares over Ebola and ISIS, approval of the President’s performance sank. He was late to lead in these crises and he failed to inspire swing voters with his successes: for one, his Administration is presiding over the fastest-growing economy in the industrialized world.

Now Obama seems at risk of running out his time in office by accepting dutifully the shrinking boundaries of his Presidency. Last Wednesday, at a press conference in the East Room, he spoke about how, even without congressional support, his Administration might yet improve customer service at government offices—an aspiration so small that it would sound sad if voiced by a mayor of Topeka. Asked about being called a lame duck, Obama replied, “That’s the label that you guys apply.” He outlined a modest legislative agenda that might be pursued with Republican coöperation, if such a thing could be obtained: infrastructure spending that would create high-paying jobs, a raise in the federal minimum wage, and programs to expand early-childhood education and to make college more affordable.

In private, Obama and his aides are discussing a different agenda, one that could be achieved without Congress, through regulation and executive orders, such as the ones he has already signed to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers and to triple the government’s use of renewable energy. Separately, the E.P.A. has proposed to reduce carbon emissions from electricity plants by thirty per cent before 2030, which could hasten the country’s transition away from coal, if the regulations are seen through. In the aftermath of the Ferguson crisis, civil-rights groups have pressed the White House to order the Justice Department to end racial profiling in federal law enforcement. And the President is reportedly considering two exceptionally bold ideas: to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to temporarily normalize the legal status of undocumented immigrants who have been living and working here for years. These proposals would require enormous political tenacity, but would greatly elevate Obama’s legacy.

[…]

Last week, McConnell said that if Obama acted unilaterally he would so inflame Republicans that it would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Obama’s choice of sports metaphor involved basketball. He’s playing in the fourth quarter, he said, but “the only score that matters” is how he serves the American people. The President has always preferred to win his points through legislative process. Bill Clinton, who faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress for six of his eight years in office, signed three hundred and sixty-four executive orders; Obama has signed a hundred and ninety-one. The reality now is that either Obama outruns McConnell’s bulls or he waddles down Pennsylvania Avenue like a certain duck.

 Why Not Al Franken?  Charlie Pierce thinks he’d make a great president.

Brother Dave Weigel points out that Al Franken ran a populist campaign for re-election — straight, no chaser. His ads were direct, and their message was impressively disciplined. (It also helped that the Republicans ran the perfect foil for Franken’s message, a guy who makes Willard Romney look like Henry Wallace.) If you’re looking for a way to do this, Franken and his people have written the primer. So here’s what I’m thinking — why don’t we hear Franken’s name bandied more about as a Democratic presidential possibility in 2016? I suspect that the chances of Martin O’Malley, Esquire’s Favorite Politician ™, rather cratered the other night when his lieutenant governor got whipped, largely because he was a terrible candidate, but also because he was lieutenant governor under, ahem, Martin O’Malley. Senator Professor Warren doesn’t want to run, even though the most compelling conclusion to be drawn from the blasted landscape of the Democratic campaign is that running away from her particular economic message is disastrous, no matter where you happen to be running. Franken showed through his campaign how you embrace the themes on which Warren has based her career in the context of a political campaign.

Since arriving in the Senate, Franken clearly has made the decision to be a workhorse, and not a show pony, which was something that his friend and mentor, the late Paul Wellstone, once told me was the first decision any new senator has to make. You can’t run for president without showing a little show pony. Maybe he doesn’t want to do that. But given the choice between the coronation of Hillary Clinton, and the suddenly desiccated range of options, it’s hard not to see a space for Franken to run. Hell, back in the day, he even wrote a novel about a Franken Presidency. Was he kidding on the square? Good enough? Check. Smart enough? Check. The fact that this would cause Bill O’Reilly’s head to detonate in a gorgeous orange fireball is merely a bonus.

Doonesbury — Tobacco states.